Witness in Netanyahu trial summoned for further questioning after phone search

Corruption trial of the former prime minister still slated to resume in Jerusalem on September 13

Avi Alkalay, former editor at Walla news, arrives for a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on March 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Avi Alkalay, former editor at Walla news, arrives for a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on March 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prosecutors informed the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday that they plan to investigate further after new evidence was found on the phone of a key state’s witness in former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

In a filing with the court, prosecutors said they have summoned former Walla news editor Avi Alkalay for questioning in the coming days regarding his correspondence with the website’s ex-CEO, Ilan Yeshua, who has been testifying in the case. The correspondence was found on Yeshua’s phone. Alkalay is also to be called as a witness in the Bezeq-Walla alleged bribery case, known as Case 4000.

According to prosecutors, the correspondence involves “issues that Alkalay addressed in his interrogation.” Prosecutors also said that the questioning wouldn’t impact the timing of the trial, noting that Alkalay is not set to testify for some time.

The Netanyahu trial is set to resume on September 13, following a court order that defense attorneys be provided with new evidence gleaned from messages and emails on Yeshua’s phone.

Yeshua is the first and so far only witness to give testimony in Netanyahu’s trial. He is a top witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have abused his powers when he served as both premier and communications minister from 2014 to 2017. Netanyahu is accused of illicitly and lucratively benefitting the business interests of Bezeq telecom’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage on the Bezeq-owned Walla news website.

In June, the Jerusalem District Court judges overseeing the trial granted a request from the defense attorneys to conduct an expanded search of Yeshua’s phone, arguing that they were not given the texts from all relevant conversations discovered on the device during an earlier search.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as he arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

The judges authorized another search of Yeshua’s phone for any conversations with politicians, businessmen, and others concerning his involvement in news coverage at Walla. The searches are to be conducted based on relevant keywords, which can also be suggested by the defense.

The volume of material involved adds up to hundreds of thousands of messages, including emails and some 150,000 texts sent via WhatsApp, Channel 13 News reported.

The defense has been trying to show that, contrary to his testimony, Yeshua’s orders to give certain stories greater or less visibility were commonplace not only when it came to Netanyahu but also to other politicians, businessmen and companies, and were sometimes unrelated to the Elovitches.

Netanyahu, who is now opposition leader, faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the case. He was also indicted on fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases. The ex-premier denies any wrongdoing.

Also on Sunday, a judge ruled that Yair Netanyahu must immediately pay Alkalay the settlement ordered by a court earlier this year after the prime minister’s son lost a libel case against the witness. Alkalay sued Netanyahu over posts he shared on social media claiming the editor was “a planted mole” working with the state prosecution against his father. The younger Netanyahu first filed an appeal and then filed a petition to delay paying the fine, saying he lacked the funds, but both were rejected by the court.

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